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Compounders take the lead in post-use bumper recycling.

Recycling plastics for automotive uses is starting to enter a new phase. For decades, automotive manufacturing scrap and post-consumer waste such as PET bottles have been recompounded into materials for making new car parts. Now, the focus of R&D is turning to end-of-life recycling of plastics auto parts.

Reclaiming PP battery cases to make fender liners is the only large-scale example today, according to sources at both the American Plastics Council (APC), Washington, D.C., and the Vehicle Recycling Partnership (VRP), which is composed of Detroit's Big Three auto makers. Recovery and reprocessing of bumpers looks like it could be the next major success story in "closed-loop" automotive plastics recycling. A few pioneering compounders are leading the way with proprietary separation, cleaning, and paint-removal technologies. At the same time, the APC and VRP are sponsoring research and pilot projects to develop comprehensive approaches to recycling from design to disassembly and reuse.

GIVING BUMPERS NEW LIFE

Bumper recycling has been practiced commercially in Europe for several years (see PT, June '91, p. 183; May '92, p. 101). In the U.S., one of those in the forefront of bumper recycling efforts is American Commodities, Inc. of Flint, Mich. The company has been reprocessing post-use Xenoy PC/PBT bumpers for Ford Motor Co. and turning them into compounds called Enviraloy. American Commodities uses proprietary technologies to remove up to 99.7% of paint residue and to "rejuvenate" and enhance material properties. Ford has started to incorporate 25% Enviraloy in new Xenoy bumpers and has approved 100% Enviraloy in other applications such as guide brackets. Ford is the only U.S. car maker to proclaim an official plastics recycling goal - 25% post-consumer content in every car by the year 2000.

American Commodities has developed a network of 400 dismantlers across the country. Says president Mark Lieberman, "We have educated them with a written specification on methodologies for dismantling and product identification." More recently, the company has broadened its specifications to include TPO bumpers, which Big Three sources say account for more than half of all U.S. bumpers today and will probably take 98% of the market by 2000.

Lieberman says recycling TPO is more of an economic challenge because virgin TPO costs only about 85 [cents]/lb, versus $1.50/lb for PC/PBT. As a result, American Commodities sells its Enviraloy PC/PBT compound at 25-30% less than virgin, but Enviraloy TPO compound is priced only 10% below virgin. He doubts that materials costing less than TPO can be recycled economically with today's technology.

Lieberman says Enviraloy TPO will be used in bumper fascias, splash shields, air dams, and claddings. He also says the company has the technology to develop an Enviraloy TPO that will provide a consistent Class A surface, paintability, and potential for molded-in color when used at a 100% level. Enviraloy TPO is distributed exclusively in North America by D&S Plastics International, Auburn Hills, Mich.

Next on Lieberman's agenda is recycling interior trim, which he considers even more challenging. He concedes that relatively low-cost materials like PP and ABS cannot currently be reclaimed and still yield a profit. However, they can be used for blending into higher-value alloys. American Commodities already reclaims PC/ABS and nylon/PPO alloys for Saturn Corp. Material from door skins, rocker panels, fenders, and quarter panels is reprocessed into wheel covers. Lieberman is now aiming these materials at interior trim, where reuse in some applications could be at 100% levels.

Another firm active in bumper recycling is the original maker of the Xenoy material. GE Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass., has been collecting post-use Xenoy bumpers from Ford vehicles and supplying them to Recycling Separation Technologies, Inc., Lowell, Mass. Bumpers are ground and subjected to a proprietary cleaning and density separation process, which removes all ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plus 15 different types of adhesives, up to 40 different types of body fillers and putty, and up to 75% of the paint, according to Ron Roberto, president of the recycling firm. The purified regrind goes back to GE Plastics, which recompounds it and sells it to Ford for reuse in new bumper fascias. Roberto says his company is also interested in reclaiming TPO bumpers.

Although not yet involved with bumpers, Chicago-based MRC Polymers also believes the future lies with post-use recycling of car parts. The firm has been compounding engineering plastics since 1980 utilizing industrial scrap and post-consumer PET bottles and business-machine housings. Some of these materials found their way into auto parts, such as modified nylon 66 wheel covers for General Motors and 100%-recycled polycarbonate covers for instrument panels on Chrysler minivans. MRC has its own separation and paint-removal techniques.

MRC's new direction is signaled by the arrival of its new Virgaloy material, a PC/acrylic based on multicolor acrylic taillight lenses blended with PC from other sources. This opaque material is being evaluated for unpainted exterior cowl-vent grilles and mirror housings. MRC founder and CEO Dan Eberhardt says he aims to sell his recycled resins - including Virgaloy, Naxell PC, and Stanuloy PC/PET - at 10-20% lower prices than virgin.

DEFINING THE 'BIG PICTURE'

Spokesmen for the APC and VRP say these organizations in collaboration with other industry associations and recyclers have made significant progress toward large-scale automotive plastics recycling over the past five years. Still, much remains to be done. Ongoing research is aimed at low-cost dismantling, separation of different polymers from mixtures, extracting polymers from ASR (automotive shredder residue), economical polymer identification methods, paint removal, and upgrading of mixed polymers.

The VRP also aims to develop materials-selection criteria and design guidelines that will facilitate recycling of future vehicles. "There's been a lot of progress made in thinking about how to design a part that is more recyclable so that process scrap becomes more valuable," says Jerry Fosnaugh, director of environmental business development at Dow Plastics, Midland, Mich., and chairman of the automotive subcommittee of APC's Durables program. However, Fosnaugh adds that the impact of design for recyclability "is not likely to be felt for another 10 years."

Perhaps the ultimate hurdle is one of cost. The auto companies make it clear that they will not pay a premium for reclaimed plastics - in fact, they hope to pay less. That may not always be possible, but the APC and VRP are sponsoring efforts to optimize the economics of recycling lower-cost automotive plastics.

PILOT PROJECTS

The APC has provided funds since 1994 for the operation of a Multi-Products Recycling Facility by wTe Corp., a Boston-based reprocessor of post-consumer PET bottles and metals from auto shredders. This research and demonstration facility contains a mechanical processing line designed to recover a clean, single-resin plastic flake from various durable goods. Processing steps include size reduction, removal of metal contaminants, separation of non-metals by density, and then washing and drying. In a series of trials, wTe has successfully recovered glass-filled nylon from radiator end caps and ABS and PP from auto interior components.

Second, the APC and VRP are sponsoring a new project by MBA Polymers, Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., a research company specializing in development of new recycling technologies. Says president Michael Biddle, "Our objective is to focus on the most abundantly used automotive polymers and on reprocessing them separately, bringing them close to virgin material in processing and performance. Part of the project is to assess the design of new cars to provide feedback to the automotive design community as to how they can make their parts more recyclable."

According to Gerald Winslow, VRP's Chrysler Programs manager, Chrysler Corp. has given MBA Polymers some newly designed 1996 model-year parts to conduct a materials-recovery study using MBA's Advanced Plastics Recycling Pilot Line. Included are instrument-panel assemblies, interior door-trim panels, and bumper fascias of TPO and RIM urethane. "The object is for MBA to define what can be machine-separated and to benchmark VRP's design guidelines. Our guidelines have a density separation factor and we want to see if his process will meet it."

For example, a whole instrument panel will be put through one end of the pilot line, which includes a rotary grinder and a series of dry and wet material separators that utilize differences in density and other material properties. "The aim with the IPs is to see what is the greatest amount of material that can be recovered in the shortest time," says Winslow. Although most older IPs typically contain up to 15 different plastics, Chrysler's '96 IPs are designed with only five or six materials, he says. MBA is also developing a water-based technology for paint removal.

"For the automotive molders, some of the technologies we are developing will mean that they can recycle more of their in-house scrap," says Biddle. He cites development of ways to recover uncontaminated plastics from engine parts that use molded metal inserts.
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Title Annotation:Technology News: Automotive Recycling
Author:Sherman, Lilli Manolis
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Words:1467
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